Old School

It’s probably common knowledge among the educated beer-drinking and brewing community that Germany is best known for a wide range of lagers. Beers brewed at colder temperatures, using a yeast strain that generally ferments at or near the bottom of the vessel. That’s about the only common characteristic among lagers, though, as they range from light to dark, mild to strong, sweet to bitter… Just like ales, which are, of course, brewed generally at warmer temperatures with a top-feeding yeast strain. Generally. There are, of course, exceptions.

In the world of German beer, too, there are exceptions. There are two classic styles of beer still brewed in Germany which predate the lager revolution of the 19th century and which are considered ales,. Not because of their color, their hop profile, or their strength, but merely because the yeasts used to produce them are top-feeding warm-tolerant strains.

I am referring, of course to the golden Kölsch and the copper Altbier, pride of Köln (Cologne) and Düsseldorf, respectively. Altbier, in particular, is such a traditional and culturally-rooted style that even its name (“Old Beer”) is significant. It’s not “old” as in sitting around for a long time, nor particularly “old-fashioned”, but it is simply an old style, a style that has been brewed in the Düsseldorf area for a long time.

This recipe is pretty close to Horst Dornbusch’s “Altstadt Altbier” in his AHA Style Series book “Altbier”. I have adapted the hops and yeast, and added just a hint of dark malt to enhance the reddish color. Fermented warm initially, it gets almost lagered in the secondary to produce a crisp, clean malt profile with substantial bitterness and hop flavor.

Altschule Altbier
5 gallons, all-grain


  • 6 lbs. 2-row pale malt
  • 1.5 lbs. dark Munich malt
  • 1.5 lbs. Vienna malt
  • 1 lb. 60°L crystal malt
  • 1 oz. black malt
  • 1 oz. Perle hop pellets (@8% aa)
  • 1 oz. Spalt pellets (@5% aa)
  • 1 oz. whole Hallertauer hops (@2.5% aa)
  • White Labs Düsseldorf Altbier yeast (WLP036)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar for priming

Crush grains. Heat 10 quarts water to 130°F. Mash in grain (the mash will be VERY thick) and hold at 124°F for 20 minutes. Heat another 10 quarts water to 165°F, add to mash and mix well. Hold at 154°F for 70 minutes. Heat another 13 quarts of water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 28 – 30 quarts sweet wort. Heat to boiling. Boil 45 minutes with no hops. Add Perle hops, boil 30 minutes. Add Spalt hops, boil another 30 minutes. Add Hallertauer hops, boil 2 minutes (107 minutes total) and remove from heat. Steep covered for 10 minutes. Remove Hallertauer hops, chill wort to 80°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 65 – 70°F for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, age cool (45 – 50°F) for two weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition three to four weeks at 50°F.

OG: 1050
IBU’s: 48

Note on mash: The first part of the mash, at a low temperature, is a traditional German technique designed to promote better clarity and fuller body in the beer by enabling proteolytic enzymes to convert large-chain proteins. Or so I’m told. More science than I can wrap my head around…

Note on volume: the wort from this mash is at a higher volume than most of my brews, designed as such with a longer boil in mind  – another piece of the traditional alt brewing process is a long boil, to promote the Maillard reaction which deepens the red/copper color; naturally, the longer the boil the more evaporation, so to end up at the 5.25 gallon mark you need to start with a greater volume…

First Spring Brew

After boiling and jarring maple syrup last weekend, I still had enough sap left over to do one more maple-based beer. With the promise of a brief return of colder weather, I decided to risk one more lager. A big beer, a rich malty beer, with the additional flavor of maple – a Doppelbock. Again, I partially reduced the sap and mashed with it, and added more syrup to the kettle. I will use partly maple syrup to prime the beer when I bottle it, just to reinforce the maple flavor. German malts, German hops, German yeast, and to put me in the right frame of mind, I even listened to all German music while brewing… Not opera or classical, not even Oompah bands… Herbert Grönemeyer, Grobschnitt, STS, Peter Schilling, Nena, and other assorted pop, rock and folk… Peter Gabriel and The Beatles even made cameo appearances… Alles gut!

Evaporator Doppelbock
5 gallons, all-grain


  • 6 gallons maple sap reduced to 16 quarts
  • 11 lbs. Weyermann lager malt
  • 1/2 lb. 120° crystal malt
  • 1/8 lb. chocolate malt
  • 1/8 lb. cara-pils malt
  • 1 quart maple syrup
  • 8.3 AAU’s Perle hop pellets (1 oz.)
  • 5.1 AAU’s Tettnang hop pellets (1 oz.)
  • 3.0 AAU’s Hallertau hop pellets (1 oz.)
  • White Labs German Bock yeast (WLP833)
  • 1/2 cup corn sugar (for priming)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (for priming)

Reduce the sap to 16 quarts, heat to 168°F. Crush the grains, mash in to 157°F and hold for 90 minutes. Heat 14 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts sweet wort. Add maple syrup, heat to boiling. Add Perle hops, boil 45 minutes. Add Tettnang hops, boil fifteen minutes. Add Hallertau hops, boil another fifteen minutes (75 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate, pitch yeast. Seal and ferment 10 – 14 days at 60°F, rack to secondary. Lager cold (40 – 45°F) for four to six weeks. Prime with corn sugar and maple syrup, bottle and condition at least a month.

OG: 1080
IBU’s: 51

Notes on style: Bock beers in general are strong lagers. They can be dark or light in color, but they are all aged cold. Some are released in the Spring, some in the Fall, some are year-round brews. The name probably comes from the Bavarian town of Einbeck (pronounced “Einbock” with a Bavarian accent, they say…) where the first versions of the style were brewed over 600 years ago. They were brewed strong to store longer, and were shipped while still fermenting. Extra-strong ones were brewed in monasteries – perhaps as “food” – liquid bread –  for the Lenten season, when the monks were otherwise fasting. These double-strength brews became known as Doppelbocks. The first well-known one was brewed by the Pauline monks in Munich, disciples of St. Francis of Paula, hence the brewery now known as Paulaner. Their bock was named Salvator, “Savior”, and was timed to coincide with Easter. That name was imitated and emulated throughout the rest of the brewing world, and indeed it is rare to find a Doppelbock that does not have a name ending in -ator. Maximator (Augustiner), Celebrator (Ayinger), Optimator (Spaten), and Animator (Hacker-Pschorr) are the most famous of the Bavarian examples.

Names for doppelbocks: Doppelbocks are, in my opinion, the most fun brews to name. I have brewed or seen and tasted Doppelbocks with the following names:
Terminator ( “I’ll be Bock”), Translator, Alligator, Seeyoulator, Elevator, Refrigerator (brewed by a Chicago Bears fan back in the mid-80’s…), Regulator, Dominator, Lionator (“What happened to your wife?”), Frustrator, Percolator (brewed with coffee, of course), Dragonator (“What happened to the Princess?”), Jugulator… you get the idea…

What’s up with the goats? For some reason, Bock beers get associated with goats – many labels on Bocks, especially Doppelbocks, feature goats with large curled horns, standing on mountain-tops, head-butting each other, etc… Ayinger’s Celebrator even comes with a white plastic goat on a string around the neck of each bottle…

FYI: Tomorrow (Friday 3/26) I will be attending a conference on hop-growing in Vermont, run by the University of Vermont Agricultural Extension, at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT. If any of you are there, please say hello! I will report on the conference (and on the Von Trapp’s new brewery!)…